Wadjak Homo sapiens

The Wadjak 1 skeleton was found in 1888 by B. van Rietschoten in a fissure on the slopes of Gunung Lawa, central Java, during marble mining operations. In the following year the Wadjak remains were given to Eugene Dubois, who subsequently began his own excavations at the Wadjak site in 1890. A second specimen, Wadjak 2, was found by Dubois in the first year of his excavation. Dubois's description and analysis of the Wadjak skeletons was published in Dutch (1920) and English (1922). More recently, Paul Storm (1995) has completed a more detailed comparison of the Wadjak remains, with particular emphasis on their evolutionary significance and chronology.

There has been a protracted debate over the age of the Wadjak site. Dubois (1922) thought it dated to the Pleistocene, Jacob (1967) and Bartstra (1984) terminal Pleistocene or early Holocene, and a number of other authors, including Storm (1995), have suggested the Holocene. Storm argues that the fauna from Wadjak are either extant modern species or species which have become extinct in the last two thousand years years due to human activity. This is supported by AMS bone apatite dates of 6560±140 on a piece of human femur and 10,560±75 for fauna (Storm 1995:148). Unfortunately, the precise stratigraphic association of Wadjak 1 and 2 is unknown and their contemporaneity remains a matter for conjecture. Taken as a whole, however, the evidence supports a Holocene age for the human remains from Wadjak.


For more than a century descriptions of the Wadjak skeletons emphasised aspects of their anatomy which were argued to link them with Pleistocene humans in Australia. Dubois (1922) thought Wadjak a "Proto Australian", Weidenreich (1945) argued that Keilor from south-eastern Australia and Wadjak 1 shared a common "racial identity", similarly Jacob (1967) and Wolpoff et al. (1984) have Wadjak 1 as part of a regional sequence linking Java with early populations in Australia. These arguments rest on the identification of a suit of anatomical features in Wadjak which also occur at a high frequency in prehistoric Australian Aborigines and distinguish Aborigines from other regional populations. Given the variation in our species it is not good enough that one or two terminal Pleistocene Australian crania may have a superficial resemblance to Wadjak if 95 percent of them do not. When Weidenreich stressed the similarity between Wadjak and Keilor only two "Pleistocene" skeletons had been described from Australia. These were Talgai and Keilor (Smith 1918; Wunderly 1943; Brown 1997). Wadjak looked nothing like Talgai, however, uncleaned and partially reconstructed Wadjak 1 looked something like Keilor. Unfortunately for this line of argument, more than 50 terminal Pleistocene skeletons have now been recovered from Australia and the Wadjak skeletons resemble them no more closely than they do skeletons of similar age from other parts of the world.

Wadjak 1 can be distinguished from recent Javan skeletons by greater size and robusticity, particularly in the supraorbital region and oro-facial skeleton. Similarly the Wadjak 2 facial skeleton and frontal fragment are from a relatively large and robust individual. This is a common feature of late Pleistocene and early Holocene members of our species throughout the world, with directional reduction in skeletal robusticity and body mass through the Holocene (Brown 1992). Storm's (1995) comparison emphasised the distinction that could be drawn between Australian Aboriginal cranial morphology and Wadjak, with Wadjak 1 displaying Javanese features on a larger and more robust framework. Male Australian Aboriginal crania can be distinguished from other regional populations in Australasia by their long, narrow and high cranial vaults, with marked facial prognathism in association with large teeth and palates. Nasal apertures are broad, with a smooth lower margin and the orbits tend to be broad, low and rectangular. Supraorbital development in males, including the glabella, superciliary ridges and zygomatic trigone, tends to be pronounced with a receeding frontal squama and high frequency of a well developed median frontal ridge.. Bones in the cranial vault are relatively thick and male crania usually have a well developed occipital torus. The mid-face is narrow relative to modern Asian populations, facial height reduced and the zygomatic bones do not the antero-lateral orientation common to Asian facial skeletons. Determining to what extent these traits are present in the Wadjak skeletons is complicated by issues of poor preservation and postmortem distortion. While the cranium of Wadjak 1 is reasonably complete there is substantial reconstruction of missing segments of the vault and facial morphology has been altered by cracking, distortion and expansion. Wadjak 2 is much more fragmentary and the cranial fragments do not articulate together. My own observations agree with those of Storm (1995) in finding little in the anatomy of the facial, frontal or occiptal regions of either Wadjak 1 or 2 which is indicative of an Australian connection, rather than robust, early Holocene, Javanese. Comparative dimensions of Wadjak 1, Wadjak 2 and a terminal Pleistocene Australian Aboriginal series are provided below.


Access to Wadjak

The wadjak skeletons form part of the Dubois Collection in the Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, Leiden, the Netherlands. Research workers interested in access to these collections should write to Dr John de Vos, Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, PO Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.


Bartstra GJ (1984) Some remarks upon fossil man from Java, his age and his tools. In P van de Velde (ed.): Prehistoric Indonesia. Dordrecht: Foris Publications, pp. 163-177.

Brown P (1992) Recent human evolution in East Asia and Australasia. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, Series B 337:235-242.

Brown P (1996) Australian Paleoanthropology. In F Spencer (ed.): History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Dubois E (1920) De proto-Australische fossiele mensch van Wadjak (Java), I-II. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam 19:88-105, 866-887.

Dubois E (1922) The proto-Australian fossil man of Wadjak, Java. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam B 23:1013-1051.

Jacob T (1967) Some problems pertaining to the racial history of the Indonesian region. Druk. Neerlandia, Utrecht i-xiv:1-162.

Storm P (1992a) Het vraagstuk over de oorsprong van de moderne mens en de rol die de wadjak mens (Java) daarbij speelt. Cranium 9:3-10.

Storm P (1992b) Two Microliths from Javanese Wadjak Man. Journal of the Anthropological Society Nippon 100:191-203.

Storm P (1995) The evolutionary significance of the Wajak skulls. Scripta Geologica 110:1-247.

Storm P, and Nelson AJ (1992) The many faces of Wadjak Man. Archaeology in Oceania 27:37-46.

Weidenreich F (1945) The Keilor skull: a Wadjak type from south-east Australia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 3:225-236.

Wolpoff MH, Wu X-Z, and Thorne AG (1984) Modern Homo sapiens origins: a general theory of hominid evolution involving the fossil evidence from east Asia. In FH Smith and F Spencer (eds.): The origins of modern humans. New York: Alan. R. Liss, pp. 411-484.


Table 1. Comparative dimensions of Wadjak 1, Wadjak 2 and mean dimensions for male terminal Pleistocene-early Holocene Australian Aborigines from Coobool Creek.

Variable list Wadjak 1 Wadjak 2 Coobool Creek
glabella-opisthocranion (201) . 195.6
basion-nasion (109) . 104.8
basion-bregma (138) . 141.2
bi-auricular breadth 139 . 126.2
nasion-nasospinale 51 . 54.4
nasal breadth 30 32 29.5
palate breadth 71 79 (65)
mastoid height 31 . 32
orbit height 35 . 31.7
orbit breadth 42 . 43.7
max supraorbital breadth (117) (120) 116.3
min frontal breadth 100 102 99.4
nasion-bregma chord 116 . 120.9
nasion-bregma subt. 29 . 23.8
nasion-subtense fraction 64 . 53.8
bregma-lambda chord 118 . 119.2
bregma-lambda subt. 27 . 24.3
bregma-subtense fraction 60 . 61.5
lambda-opisthion chord 95 . 102.2
lambda-opisthion subt. 31 . 29.1
lambda-subtense fraction 49 . 54.4
 max canine breadth .  10.4  9.7
 max pm1 breadth .  11.2  11.0
 max pm2 breadth 11.0  10.8  10.8
 max m1 breadth 13.9  13.5  13.6
 max m2 breadth 13.8  13.8  13.9
 max m3 breadth 13.1  13.2  13.1
 bregma thickness  7.6  .  10.8
 lambda thickness  8.0  7.3  12.8

Southeast Asia Index